Clean Label | American Society of Baking
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Clean Label

What is a clean label?

Clean label is a growing trend in the baking industry that is largely influenced by consumers looking for alternative ways to consume their favorite baked goods. They are demanding healthier, simpler and more familiar products.

Baking clean label products requires different ingredients, formulations, processes and quality control approaches. Currently, there is no absolute definition for clean label.

Instead, the concept involves:

  • A simple and short ingredient list
  • Ingredients that are “all natural” and contain no chemicals, no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavor agents
  • Minimally processed ingredients
  • Ingredients that are easy to understand
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The “clean label” concept arose from consumers trying to understand and easily identify ingredients on food labels. With people paying more attention to health and wellness, they tend to question the sources and suitability of food. As a consequence, the clean label movement has become a growing consumer trend. This also provides the opportunity for food manufacturers to market their newly developed “clean label” products.

How clean label works

Clean label is an abstract concept that depends on who context. There is no identifiable standard list of ingredients, because the consumer definition of a clean label product keeps evolving. However, there is a general consensus of what to look for. Simplicity seems to be a major cue to the ingredient statement.

Clean label products market to consumers focusing on a healthy lifestyle and consuming only wholesome, nutritious food. Also, it attempts to remove any ‘unnatural’ element of food from diets. In 2014, one out of ten new products launched in the U.S. had an “organic” claim, and new products labeled as “GMO-free” launched globally grew more than 40%.1


Approaches to clean label: 2,3,4

Ingredients / formulation Processing Quality control
  • Reduce/eliminate additives such as artificial flavors and colors, chemical dough conditioners and preservatives.
  • Use natural acids such as vinegar, cultured flours, raisin juice to replace traditional mold inhibitors.
  • Eliminate genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.
  • Use natural, organic and minimally processed ingredients from sustainable sources (both animal and plant).
  • Use alternative ingredients such as whole grains, pseudocereals, dairy products, virgin oils, cocoa products, gums, or ancient wheats.
  • Use encapsulated or granulated organic acids to replace slow-acting leavening acids such as phosphates and sulphates.
  • Use natural dough conditioners such as enzymes, vital wheat gluten, ascorbic acid, deactivated yeast, L-cysteine, among others.
  • Find natural replacements for emulsifiers like enzymes, lecithin or hydrocolloids.
  • Use egg, fat and sugar replacers to reduce the calorie count of products.
  • Use long fermentations (e.g. yeast and/or LAB preferments):
    • Give enzymes sufficient time to work on the flour’s substrates and modify rheology of dough, improve the crumb texture and delay the onset of staling.
    • Use fermentation products to lower the pH of the dough and extend mold-free shelf-life of bread.
    • Use fermentation products to enhance flavor, color and aroma of the finished products.
  • Use improved flour hydration technologies and mixing equipment.
  • Use makeup equipment that uses lower pressures and stresses to form the dough into its final shape prior to proofing.
  • Use proper air filtration and air change systems to reduce the amount of mold spores in the plant environment.
  • Use hygienically-designed mixers, troughs, makeup and cooling equipment.
  • Use thermal profiling.

A focus on enzymes

One of the main approaches to replacing traditional chemical dough conditioners is enzymes. Various enzymes occur naturally. Each have unique functionalities in batter-based and dough-based systems.

When used at optimal levels, purity, activity and medium conditions, enzymes can replace dough conditioners, crumb improvers and anti-staling agents.

By understanding the function of enzymes, bakers can develop optimized solutions that will allow them to replace traditional additives, and create clean label products.

What ingredients are not clean label?

For bakery products, there are many functional ingredients which are considered as “not clean.” Here are some examples:

  • ADA
  • Potassium lodate
  • Calcium peroxide
  • Benzyl peroxide (flour bleaching agent)
  • Emulsifiers (DATEM, sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium stearoyl lactylate, ethoxylated mono- and di-glycerides, PGME, polysorbate, mono- and di-glycerol, etc.)
  • Calcium propionate
  • Sorbic acid
  • Artificial flavor agents
  • Artificial color agents
  • Partially hydrogenated oil
  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)

FDA regulation

Currently, there is no FDA definition for clean label nor regulation on clean label ingredients or processes.


  1. Food Business News, Trend of the Year:  Clean Label Accessed 27 May 2019.
  2. Cauvain, S.P. “Functional Ingredients.” Technology of Breadmaking, 3rd edition, Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2015, pp. 57–97.
  3. Rezaei, M.N., et al. “The impact of yeast fermentation on dough matrix properties.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Volume 96, Issue 11, Dec. 2015, pp. 3741–3748.
  4. De Leyn, I. “Other Functional Additives.” Bakery Products Science and Technology, 2nd edition, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2014, pp. 295–306.